Late New Year's Chess Resolutions & Two Games
I just went through the new year's resolutions I had blogged back in 2010, and sadly realized I haven't made much progress, really. In fact, I guess it would be fair to say my level of practical level has actually declined. The biggest factors were my new and utterly ambivalent approach to openings, which resulted in having no opening repertoire whatsoever, and the fact that I basically stopped playing slow games, and taking them seriously when I do play, which fed into my huge lack of practical wood-pushing experience.
I'm pretty high level when it comes to tactical analysis and calculation with no time limits, and I think I have slightly improved in the area of tactical problem solving over the last four years by honing my thinking process and developing some of the relevant psychological traits like patience and endurance, mental discipline etc. a little. But when it comes to practical play, intelligent decision making when the clocks are ticking, and having a mindset geared towards always trying to make the best move in the available conditions, which all together arguably constitute the essence of the craft of playing chess itself, I'm horribly, horribly weak and untrained, compared to my tactical abilities.
What to do? Here's my recipe:
1) Just dump that "I want to be the patzer equivalent of Carlsen and Ivanchuk, playing whatever opening I feel like playing at that time of the day and just try to reach a playable position" shit, roll up your memory sleeves and build a strict, serious opening repertoire for white and black that you will consistently follow for the five-ten years. Phew. I just can't believe I have lost so much time with that nonsense. You can't play whatever opening you feel like because you're not Carlsen nor Ivanchuk and you'll just find yourself in difficult positions all the time where you have absolutely no idea what to do. If I ever get to the point of puking out of boredom for playing the same openings over and over, I can always diverge into fun stuff on the side, but having a solid foundation that you can rely on when it gets serious is just a must.
I think studying openings extensively with a good book that outlines the plans and chief targets of the lines also develops one's understanding of chess in general. To be honest, I don't really buy into that "studying openings is just robotic memorization, what's important is understanding the middlegame principles" stuff any more. I have now identified two repertoire books that I think are quite reliable and are extensive enough to keep me busy in the next 5 years and most importantly, and they build on players that I like and respect. I'll try to absorb the whole chunk of Khalifman's Openings for White According to Kramnik (I know, a lot of work, but this will spread over the next 5 years), and Openings for Black According to Karpov (which should be easier since it's a single volume work, and maybe I'll start to experiement and change things up a little bit with black if I get confident enough in those lines in the next few years)
I'll just slowly adopt them in my correspondence games here, which I will play mainly for that purpose: Learning and memorizing my openings.
2) Start reading game collection books from cover to cover, and study/play the games with Chess Hero, actually engaging with them myself. This will no doubt help me improve my positional knowledge, but it'll also help me learn more about the practical aspects of the game, and develop a feel for the chess struggle. I think I need to learn to force myself to make purposeful moves with no exceptions and try to find the best move in the position every single move, without making any half-hearted ones. For that, I think move-by-move game annotations combined with Chess Hero are just the perfect way to go. They will both keep me interested and engaged, will hopefully ingrain the correct habits, and in the meanwhile I'll be able to track my progress statistically. I have already started with Chernev's Logical Chess, which is pretty basic and easy going, and I will build my way up to more advanced books of the kind. I'm planning to finish 4-5 such books before moving on to a study of the world championships starting with the Botvinnik era, again with books, but not necessarily ones that are annotated move by move. Maybe I'll need to throw in a few general strategy books (as opposed to game collections) into that second phase, but I haven't decided yet. The current phase will keep me going for the next 6 months I guess.
The gist: Study game collection books that will keep you interested, and study them with chess hero, trying to find every move yourself first and then comparing your analysis with the annotations.
3) Following Botvinnik's advice, analyze and blog about every single game you play, no exceptions. The awareness that you'll analyze and blog about the game intensifies your mindset when you play.
4) Be serious and apply yourself. Focus, no hopping around in open browser tabs during the game, no half-hearted moves, stick to principled play. Consistently aim for the best move possible in the conditions at hand.These apply to both studying and actual game playing.
I think I have only recently started realizing that achieving the aim of mastery requires a quite radical kind of thinking. You need to go deep and grab the tree by the roots. What I mean is, for instance, half-hearted approaches like "hmm, this move looks natural, how bad could it be anyway," "Oh she's higher rated anyway, I'll just steal away the draw and call it a game" just won't suffice.
I noticed that the accuracy rate I have been aiming at while I study tactics has been hindering my improvement. Previously I was trying to get 90% of the easier problems on Chess Tactics Server, and 80% of the difficult ones on Chess Tempo right, but now I look at it in a different way. Why ever aim for making a mistake? Just aim to never, ever make them. That's the kind of mindset required to achieve mastery. Obviously I will make mistakes along the way, and will refer to my accuracy rates to track my progress, but conditioning myself for 90% makes me complacent and flabby, I always have this idea at the back of my head while studying: "Just don't worry about it, if you get this wrong, you can always get the next 4 correct and fix things up." No more of that. Deal with every problem separately, and aim at solving it correctly.
Now let's move on to the analysis of the last two slow live games I played. I know they display pretty bad chess, but they are just a start, and I'm optimistic that the level will get higher and higher if I can stick to the recipe above for the whole year. I have used Stockfish 5 for the variations and evaluations.
I have lost my verbal annotations for the second half of this second game, sorry about that. But it has a nice puzzle-like position after 28...Rd8??, take a moment there and try to find the best move yourself. You'll know it once you see it.
That's it for this week folks, next time I'll try to get the technical side of things right and present the critical moments in the games as puzzles like in my previous posts, and analyze them in more detail, especially paying more attention to mind set issues. In the meanwhile, have some nice chess! Byeee!